ED HUGHES (b.1968): Flint, Nonet, Lunar, Chroma (New Music Players), The Woods So Wild (Primrose Piano Quartet).

Catalogue Number: 07Y053

Label: Metier

Reference: msg 28623

Format: CD

Price: $17.98

Description: On this CD, Hughes offers an original and individual take on the time-honoured and venerable tradition of British landscape music. The composer’s idiom is firmly grounded in tonality, but in a slightly unusual sense; material that is entirely tonal is often present, but frequently in conjunction with highly chromatic, dissonant lines or conflicting modalities in sometimes abrasive linear counterpoint. In the context of these works an analogy might be made with geological strata in which rocks of different character exist in successive laters (the comparison breaks down a bit in the case of the South Downs, on England's southern coast, which are composed entirely of Cretaceous chalk peppered with layers of flint nodules). Also, the stunningly beautiful scenery of the area warrants sumptuous tonal depiction, but nature is by definition wild, and "red in tooth and claw", and not confined to picture-postcard scenes; for instance, just a few miles up the coast from the soaring beauty of the Seven Sisters cliffs on the CD cover is the even more imposing Beachyhead, notorious for its many suicides; and the hard, rounded flints embedded in the soft, friable chalk were fragmented to make deadly razor-sharp arrowheads and skinning knives by our prehistoric ancestors. Acknowledging this dichotomy in musical terms lends depth and richness to Hughes' landscape tableaux. The three movements of Flint perfectly exemplify this approach. The first movement is breezy, earthy and energetic, but subject to sudden unpredictable changes in harmony and texture, like the weather over the rolling hills and the abrupt shapes caused by erosion. The second movement is more traditionally pastoral and gentle; it is based on a folksong, but is still not free of passing shadows, nor the sudden divergence of contrapuntal lines, like the erratic flight of birds or the path of a startled animal. The third has a steady, flowing motion, with stratified layers of melody, not always in consonant agreement, underpinning a soaring, darting violin line. Nonet started life as a collaboration on a film project for the South Downs National Park Authority, which can be seen at https://edhughescomposer.com/nonet and which is well worth a look for its ramble through the gorgeous scenery of the area combined with the perfectly co-ordinated music. The second movement is the landscape in winter under a bleak, lowering sky; in the third we seem to be gliding over the changing landscape, in music with a post-minimalistic pulse and flow. Lunar 1 and 2 were inspired by sculptures by Isamu Noguchi, which are "luminous and evocative of a strange landscape." No.1 is muted and soft in texture, flowing like a kind of minimalism in contrapuntal lines rather than the more customary chords. So does No.2, though with more emphasis on harmony in chords and arpeggii, and brighter, more active textures. Although Chroma is two decades earlier than anything else here, its fluid, organic, natural textures and motion are remarkably similar to the more recent works, though its tonal bedrock is less consistent; more a conglomerate than a solid stratum. The composer describes it as "constantly shifting and changing, like effects of light and weather. Textures and colours are modulated through layered pulses, tempos and cross-rhythms." The piano quartet The Woods So Wild (2020-21) is again based on English song, this time a Tudor melody previously elaborated by Byrd, Gibbons, and Dowland. The song occurs in all three movements, and establishes their strong underlying tonal centres, which are layered with chromatic polyphony and cross-rhythms, suggesting the knotted roots, intertwining branches and twisting pathways in sun-dappled woodland.


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